The Color Purple is giving Boston a lot to be thankful for
The acclaimed, Tony-winning revival of The Color Purple has finally made its way to Boston. Talk about something to be grateful for this holiday season.
This musical version of Alice Walker’s gorgeous 1982 masterwork first debuted in 2005 with Oprah Winfrey on board as lead producer. And although most praised the score and the performances, the intimacy of the story was dwarfed by the massive production values and was nearly swallowed whole in the cavernous Broadway Theatre.
Then, in 2013, visionary director John Doyle mounted a bare-bones revival in the UK that was so well-received that it opened on Broadway just two years later. Now, The Color Purple is making its way across the country as part of a 29-city national tour, stopping at Boston’s Shubert Theatre through Dec 3.
Starring as Sofia is Carrie Compere, who has been with the show since it opened on Broadway almost exactly two years ago. She played one of the church ladies and understudied Orange Is the New Black star Danielle Brooks as Sofia. But when Brooks left the production a year into the show’s run, producers loved Compere’s performance so much that they asked her to take over the role.
Boston, you’re not going to want to miss this.
When it came time for you to take over the role of Sofia on Broadway, did you kind of assume that was going to happen or were you surprised that they offered it to you?
I had no idea that they were going to ask me to take it over. I thought they would possibly try to get another star name to come in to take over the role until our Broadway run was over, but I received a phone call, and they just said, “We love you, we love you as Sofia, and we want you to take it over.” They offered it to me and, of course, without hesitation, I said yes. It was a surprise but I was so ready to step into that. I love, love Sofia. I’m very happy to be doing this character.
What about when they asked you to stay on for the tour?
I had a pretty good feeling that the tour was going to happen. I, however, did not know that they were going to offer Sofia to me. I didn’t know what their plans were—you never do. This business is crazy like that, so I never felt like I had it in pocket. They were just like, “We love you, we want you to take this on the road.” For me it was important to do because I wanted to able to tell her story and to be able to be a part of this beautiful production going around the country for people who didn’t get the chance to come to New York and see it on Broadway. To be able to come to their cities and their homes and share this story is so special to all of us.
What does that feel like? It’s such an important story and it’s so powerful. You are exposing people from all corners of the country to it—that must be very gratifying.
Oh, yeah! Because I was so fortunate to be able to see the results and to experience the transformations that were happening as a result of what we were doing on Broadway, it made me even more hyped to bring it on the road. Man, if this is what’s happening in New York City, imagine the impact that we can make if we do take it on the road and we take it across the country for people that have never even read the book or seen the movie. Yeah, that’s like, major for me. And exciting—it’s exciting. We just finished up in Baltimore and I love walking outside—people are out there asking for autographs and everything, and all of that is great, but what really touches me is when I stand there and I’m looking at somebody and they’re like, “You touched me, you made me think about this or that differently, I’m going to call my brother who I haven’t spoken to in 10 years.” These are the kind of things that are happening—people are being transformed, and that’s powerful. I’m so honored to be a part of that—to even have a little piece of that is so special.
I saw the original production many times—the intimacy of the story was sometimes lost in that huge production. What can you say about how this revival is different? What’s been pared back?
This version is pared down, it’s bare bones; to me, it’s guttural. We don’t have set changes, there’s very few props, very few—and when I say very few, I mean very, very few—costume changes; we all wear the same wigs, there’s no makeup to age us. There’s all those extra things we don’t have. John Doyle, our director, was very intentional about us taking the responsibility of telling these stories flat-footed and being grounded in the story itself. There’s not much aesthetically because we want people to really hear every single word that is said and sung in this story, because this story is so important. For me there’s a groundedness to it that’s essential. It’s in your face, there’s no pomp and circumstance, there’s nothing for us to hide behind. The fourth wall is gone. And we’re going to play some pretty large venues, but the show is still so intimate that I feel that people are going to experience the tangibility of it, which I think is a difference with this particular version.
How do you keep it fresh? You’ve done it so many times now that I imagine it would be easy to just walk through it if you’re tired, especially with all the traveling.
There’s always that space where you can fall into that lull but for me, and for many of my peers on the stage, what’s important for us is that we see these new faces every show—the same guy that was sitting in row B seat 2 isn’t the same person that’s sitting there at the next show—it’s a different face, it’s a different spirit, it’s a different energy, it’s a different life. So I keep it fresh because the audiences are fresh and they deserve to get a fresh story each and every time. That’s what helps me, really. I’m thinking about the hearts that we’re speaking to.
THE COLOR PURPLE. THROUGH 12.3 AT THE SHUBERT THEATRE, 265 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. BOCHCENTER.ORG